Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Golden Temple

This blog was actually written on November 14, 2010.  That really wasn't that long ago, but it feels light years back.

In our travels, we’ve seen a lot of golden buildings and even a couple of the Golden Temples.  But this one takes the cake.  As are most buildings covered in gold, it’s very beautiful.

The real beauty of this temple doesn’t lie in the gold plated edifice floating serenely on a sacred pond (The Pool of Nectar), but in the people who care for and visit it.  It’s a Sikh (say “seek”) temple, but all are welcome here.  When the pilgrims arrive, they are treated as guests and shown the utmost hospitality.  We were given a place to sleep, as many meals and as much tea as we required, and a truly welcoming atmosphere.  Although a donation of your choosing is requested, all of this is given freely.
A class on their way to the temple.
Sikhism began as a reaction to the caste system, and one of their central tenants is that all humans are equal.  This belief is expressed in various ways, one of which is langar, in which a diversity of people sit side by side to share a meal provided by volunteers in a community kitchen.  Between 80,000 and 200,000 people stay and eat each day, but the entire process is efficiently run by volunteers.  Anyone can join in to help with the food prep or the dish washing.

Everyone awaiting their food
This was way more delicious than it appears
Huge pot of pulao.  The cook gave us each a handful to try then shooed us into the eating area
Pots of Chai (tea)
All over the world, I’ve heard a lot about the ideals of peace and equality, but it’s rare that they manifest themselves so easily.  That’s what’s truly remarkable about Amrit Sarovar: while you’re here, you can feel a real openness and peace among the members of humanity. 

You might have noticed everyone is wearing a scarf or turban.  That's because everyone (men and women both) is asked to cover their hair as a gesture of respect.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

McLeod Ganj

We got a bit behind on the posts again:  this time due to slow internet connections, strange Picasa behavior, and general laziness.  No autocratic government to blame this time I'm afraid.  This post was actually written on Sunday, November 14.  I can hardly believe that because it feels like it's been ages, even though it was less than a month ago.

We spent almost 3 weeks in McLeod Ganj (sounds like Mc-Cloud Gonj), and most of that time was spent ailing and recovering from amoebic dysentery, but we still had a chance to do a few cool things.

McLeod Ganj
We saw a performance of what began as traditional Tibetan song and dance and what eventually devolved into an interactive 90s dance pop fiasco.  But it was a good time.

It was definitely more interpretive than traditional by this point.  But note traditional Tibetan coat nonetheless.
We took a short walk to the local waterfall and spent the night sitting around a campfire at a remote café.

That's not me with the guitar, that's a girl who has a great singing voice
We witnessed a limited version of Diwali celebrations as the Indian kids in town lit off extremely loud and precariously aimed fireworks.

We saw Kalachakra Temple and walked a kora around the Dalai Lama’s residence.

One of the Dalai Lama's many seats
Ancient Tibetan texts saved from the Chinese and brought to India
A Tibetan women circumnambulating the Dalai Lama's residence
A prayer flag
We watched monks debate in Namgyal Gompa.  They weren’t as animated and entertaining as the ones at Sera Monastery, but they were debating with foreigners and non-monks.

They were speaking Tibetan
We followed the crowd to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Tibetan Children’s Village School,
where we got to see the man himself, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, speak.  He was really far away and he was speaking Tibetan, but we were there and he was there, so I think that counts for something.

That's him
We also met some new friends, took a couple of yoga classes, played some open-mics, and had a lot of long discussions about the nature of reality and spirituality.  McLeod Ganj is like that.  It’s in the air.

It ain's all beautiful sunsets and poor kids, but there sure are a lot of both